The Scarlet Letter Turns Green

Scarlett LetterMost Americans have either read or heard of a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne called The Scarlet Letter, which takes place in 17th-century Boston. In the story, a woman has to wear a scarlet (red) letter “A” because she has committed adultery (had sex with someone who is not one’s husband or wife). It’s an example of using shame (embarrassment over having done something wrong) to punish and to influence certain behavior in a way that we are supposed to find cruel and unwarranted (done without a good reason). Nowadays, when we say something is like a “scarlet letter” we mean that it is an unfair punishment, a cruel method of changing behavior.

Well, it appears that shame is back, and now it’s good! According to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, some psychologists are now recommending that the best way to get people to “turn green” (do good things for the environment) is to use peer pressure (the actions and opinions of your friends and family) and shame. For example, you are more likely to reuse (use again) your hotel towels when you are told that everyone else is reusing theirs, rather than because it is “good for the environment.”  People use less energy in their homes when their energy use is published on a website and compared to their neighbors, rather than simply being asked to cut back (use less).

The new, 21st century lesson of The Scarlet Letter appears to be this: Shame is actually a good thing if it is used to change a behavior we don’t like.


Image credit: “The Scarlett Letter” by T.H. Matteson, 1860; Wikepedia CC.

This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Scarlet Letter Turns Green

  1. Karl, Austria says:

    Shame on those, who do not listen to ESL podcast. Everybody else does.

  2. Fayssal says:

    very thought-out and interesting subject…..

    i liked the expression ” scarlet letter ” i will use it from now on 🙂

  3. Nur says:

    I love the movie with Demi Moore and now I love the expression too!

  4. Peter says:

    Jeff’s material works at the academic level as well.

    I finished school once here in Toronto.back then, I wasn’t introduced to Eslpod yet and all the materials and lectures would challenge me to the point that threw me totally off kilter. But, now that I m back to school I am feeling the difference.the challenge is gone.
    Profs’ lectures have Been droped down ( by constant listening to Jeff) at my comprehension level,and lecture note are somehow childish to me( thanks to Lucy transcript)
    I am telling you folks, proffs loan a lot from Jeff’s matterial in their lectures and materials.

  5. Peter says:

    Thanks to you Jeff that with Eslpod you have aimed the deepest layer of our linguistic portion of our brains; not just scraching the outermost layer.
    And, indeed,this Eslpod property( character) has distinguished it from its counterparts out there.

  6. emiliano says:

    I do not know really what to say about this subject, it´s difficult to discern, at least for me, if it´s for good or for bad to feel shame as a let
    motive to do something. As a rule I don´t like it, but may be it could be useful under some circunstances, I doub it, but who knows….?

    By all means a letter on a dress or other kind of sign that indicates something about a person as:

    and so forth…..,
    to me it´s not good, it´s demeaning and along history men have done such a thing with other men and women always, and also other things like
    short hair, a cross, bonet, yellow star on the chest, different signs on the walls of the houses, and so on.

    In fact I don´t like to wear anything that shows I am fond to this or to that, or even I belong to any kind of association.
    I like to feel free without any kind of signs that could show inner feelings or restrain my freedom.
    Be ashamed is hard, I think…..
    It´s always better to learn or to teach.

    Thank you Jeff, a good subject.

  7. Peter says:

    Jeff ,indeed y have groupies
    One is me
    Wemon!!!! We can’t live with them and we can’t live wothought them.
    they are impossible.
    I got dumped just now because my suposodly girlfriend realized I went snooping in her closet . It wasnt snooping I was rifeling through trying to dig out my wallet among a huge pile of cloths and knock-knocks. Swear to God I m not making it up!
    The never of her,
    I know it is unbelievable!!!
    But it is true
    It is not the point though!
    The point is
    This mishap reminded me of a good old saying :
    Women!!! We ( men) can’t live with them ,and can’t live without them
    What are your thoughts on that Jeff, and Warren!
    No nerve to ask Luci :))

  8. Peter says:

    Dear Jeff,
    I couldn’t help but notice that u have covered almost everything but presentation methods.
    U know it is a must-know skills in North America.

  9. emiliano says:

    Two days ago, here in Spain there was a change of ministers and no body knows why and for what. But yesterday there was the portfolio substitution and all the goverment were laughing and having a big feast.
    The question for lots of spaniards was, what these people are laughing for?, why they are so happy? are they aliens?
    In wich kind of world are they living?, do they read the newspapers?
    In several newspapers of Spain the news were that one of each four children is under powerty level in the country just the same as the older people that one of each four hasn´t enough to survive here in Spain.
    We have more than 3 and a half millions of persons without an employment, 20 per cent or more, so why these politicians are laughing so happily?. I know nothing about their reasons to have so big happening.
    They seems to me like Neron when he was singing and fiddlyn while Rome was in a fire, what a shame just having to see that.
    Regards, emiliano

  10. roberto says:

    Talking about environment, we use different signs to indicate wether a fridge, dishwasher or washing machine are respectful about environment: letters to “A” from “E” (whether an electrical appliance uses more energy is classified with the letter “E” but if it uses a little energy is classified “A”.
    But the expression “scarlett letter” only reminds me bad things. I don´t like to use shame feelings to change the people behaviour because we have examples in History very depressed, as Emiliano said very well.
    After all human being is able to do everything but the use of shame to manipulate behaviour, at least it can be argued.
    I like the expression “peer pressure”. I´ll try to include it in my vocabulary.
    A very interesting topic, Jeff

  11. emiliano says:

    “And this house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away”

    Feelings are similar everywhere/everytime.

    Lovely song Lucy, thanks.
    Tell Jeff he has to sing it in one of the ESL Podcast……, ¡he is so good singer¡

    All the best, emiliano

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! I has just watched “The Scarlet Letter” movie. First I thought it is just a movie with indians and I said: What’s up with Dr. Jeff? Then I understood… sin and guilt.
    Hey, girls! Help me! Is it true when you accept a man you go to death? It could be true.
    So many sad stories with pregnant women left by their lovers… Where are they when their lovers suffer so much? And then their children’s suffering…
    But a deep and true love with your soul mate? “WHO IS TO SAY WHAT IS THE SIN IN GOD’S EYES?”

    I wish you a deep and true love with a happy end,


  13. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for “On the Waterfront” 1954 movie. I watched it two days ago. The fight against corruption is very dangerous and impossible… and the testifying is frightful.
    I watched many times the famous scene mentioned by you : “I could have been a somebody instead a bum which is what I am.”
    Nice movie and I like Marlon Brando.

  14. Tania says:

    Hi! New words for me: mob, bum, to give away the ending… and others .

  15. Tania says:

    Hi! I do not know this spiritual song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” but if it is so well known in the U.S.A. we must know it with your help.
    Now I have understood better the meaning of the spiritual/religious song.
    For me “spiritual” is a false friend as we use the same word “spiritual” for wit, witty.

  16. Tania says:

    Hi! Last week I watched “The Good Shepherd ” movie. As I prefer movies based on real events with espionage and cover operations… oh!…it is a delicacy of movie.
    I have watched it twice to understand better and memorize many scenes. When it comes to the CIA-Central Intelligence Agency and counter-intelligence, only mystery and dread…for sure it is a good movie.
    Of course with the huge contribution of the actors. Poor Robert De Niro…so old…

  17. Tania says:

    Hi! I have tried with Bucharest hotels, too. It is working! Thank you.

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! “Oh! Susanna”… one of my first English songs which I was learning when I was a pupil.
    I smile thinking about my life of pupil listening to my first English words.

    Nice acting. Thank you.

  19. Tania says:

    Hi! It is Sunday. With an exciting hiking (in my mind) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park exploring the heart of the Smokies wilderness and listening to “Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone”…
    well, a wonderful week-end.

    I have picked up a wildflower for you all,


Comments are closed.